In the Education Life section of today's New York Times, Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard speculates on the future of higher education in an article titled "What you (really) need to know". In particular, he writes about active learning, collaborative learning and how new technologies will change the way we learn. Of course, much of what Summers talks about in the NY times article is not new. In fact, social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning have long been used in the physical sciences. But the fact that we see leaders in academia, like Summers, talk more and more about the need for change makes me hopeful of the future of undergraduate education in the US.
Recently in Active Learning Category
How much do students learn using the traditional lecture approach? Not much, as it turns out. Yet, why do we, STEM faculty, keep using lecture as the primary pedagogical tool? Here's an excellent article by Carl Wieman, a physics Nobel laureate, on the need for faculty to pay more attention to advances in learning research.
It's no secret that dropout rates in STEM courses are high. A recent article in the New York Times highlights this problem and explores the question of why there are so few science majors. While there are many reasons, a big part of the problem is that introductory science classes are large and often involve traditional lecturing as the primary pedagogical tool. Project-based and student-centered approaches to learning are relatively rare. As someone who teaches organic chemistry, I once thought that student-centered pedagogy would be difficult to implement in class. Having used this approach since fall 2009 in a freshman organic chemistry course, I now wonder what took me so long to give up on lecturing.